Google investigates ethical AI team member into handling sensitive data

Ruben Fields
January 22, 2021

Sundar Pichai, the Google CEO, has sought to ease out the outrage but his efforts have been criticized by the employees, including Mitchell.

Google has locked the corporate employee account of ethical AI team leader Margaret Mitchell, and is investigating her activity, according to Bloomberg.

The news was first reported by Dr. Timnit Gebru, who previously co-led Google's ethical AI division with Mitchell and left the company in December after she said she was sacked.

Breitbart News reported last December that Gebru alleges that she was approached by a manager at Google and asked to retract or remove her name from a research paper that she had coauthored as an internal review at Google found the contents of the paper objectionable.

Ms Mitchell has been a vocal supporter of Ms Gebru on social media and a critic of the shortcomings of Google and other tech companies in how they address issues of race, gender and systemic bias.

Google says it automatically locks an employee's corporate account if the company's security systems find that its credentials could be compromised.

"We are actively investigating this matter as part of standard procedures to gather additional details".

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Mitchell reportedly did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The researcher and her colleagues claimed she had been fired, while Google executives said they accepted her offer to resign.

Ms Mitchell leads Alphabet's Ethical AI unit, which is responsible for developing the company's technology in a socially responsible manner. Mitchell's departure was also cited in the announcement of the Alphabet Workers Union. The firm said she had downloaded and shared thousands of sensitive documents with external accounts.

The Alphabet Workers Union, which counts Ms Mitchell as a member, said it was concerned by the suspension of her systems access, calling the move an "attack on the people who are trying to make Google's technology more ethical".

Last month, more than 1,400 Google employees were among the almost 3,300 names on an online letter calling on the tech giant to explain Gebru's dismissal along with the reason for ordering her to withdraw her research.

"Regardless of the outcome of the company's investigation, the ongoing targeting of leaders in this organization calls into question Google's commitment to ethics - in AI and in their business practices", the union said on Wednesday (Jan 20) in a statement.

Mitchell founded the Ethical AI team, built a cross-product area coalition around machine-learning fairness, and is a critical member of academic and industry communities around the ethical production of AI.

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